Pietrasanta – The main industry of this medieval Tuscan town is art. Michelangelo was among the first to sculpt here, Henry Moore was by no means the last. Today Damian Hirst sends his work here to be executed in Marble, so does Marc Quinn. The town is also a part time home for less conceptual artists such as Colombian, Fernando Botero, the Polish sculptor, Igor Mitoraj and Peter Randall-Page.
Some artists, like Hirst, send photographs or drawings via email, others like Quinn drop in for occasional fleeting visits, while some, such as the British sculptor, Helaine Blumenfeld, carve their own work. Yet, none would survive without the skills of the Artegiani, the workers whose hands give form to art.
Having previously spent three years taking portraits of sculptors in their studios, Photographer Henryk Hetflaisz, decided to turn his lens on the unsung heroes of the art world: the artisans who work in marble, mosaic, intarsia, iron and steel, bronze-casting and molding, clay sculpture, and printing.
In a major exhibition, to include 50 large scale prints, Hetlfaisz shows marble carvers at work on Damian Hirst’s Angels, enlargers creating a clay enlargement for Helaine Blumenfeld’s Spirit of Life, bronze artisans patinating a Botero horse.
There are more than 40 studios, workshops, and foundries in and around the Tuscan town. These ateliers are often run by families, where skills are handed down from generation to generation. Yet today, with new generations leaving the area and robots capable of laser precision, the artisans’ skills face the risk of extinction.
By tradition the artegiani start young, as apprentices, in the marble laboratories and bronze foundries. They usually work here their whole lives. Until very recently, all of them have been male, but in the last few years women have started to join the ranks.
Some of Pietrasanta’s artisans are also artists in their own right. Others, see themselves purely as craftspeople. No matter what their view of themselves, the artisans’ relationship with the artist whose sculptures they execute can be intense and personal, fuelled by rivalry on both sides.
In the heat and dust of the foundries and marble studios, romantic relationships too have been forged between artist and artisan.
“This exhibition is a celebration of skill and intuition honed through tens of thousands of hours of hard grafting. I was interested in sharing the fusion between man and materials. Many of the artisans are masked by the paper hats and visors they wear to protect them from the dust, yet I have tried to capture their unique contribution in the expression of their craft.”
Says curator, Valentina Fogher:
“The artegiani are the Lifeblood of Pietrasanta. More than the marble of Carrera, the artisans’ craft is what brings the international art scene to this small town. This exhibition is a fitting tribute to these unsung heroes.”